By Rev. Roger Best
In both the Old and New Testaments we often read about “the day of the Lord,” “the day of Christ,” or even “that day,” and frequently there is much confusion surrounding the meaning of these phrases. In this brief study we will take a close look at what the Bible is referring to when these terms are used, for they are of extreme importance to believers.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul tells us that this day will come to the unbeliever as a “thief.” His exhortation in verse 6 is to “be alert and sober,” and in verse 4 he says that because the believer is “not in darkness” that day should not overtake him as a thief. The problem is that many believers today do not understand what the “day of the Lord” is and therefore do not know why they need to be alert.
The phrase “the day of the Lord” appears some twenty-one times in the Old Testament, and in all but a couple of instances it refers to a time yet future. For example: Joel 1:15, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near” and Zephaniah 1:14, “Near is the great day of the Lord.” The same is true in the New Testament where the phrase “the day of the Lord” appears six times and speaks of a day yet future. 2 Peter 3:10 tells us that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” sometime in the future. So as we examine these twenty-seven passages in the Bible containing the phrase “the day of the Lord,” it is clear that it is speaking of a day yet future. In the New Testament we also have the phrase “the day of Christ” which appears three times — all in the epistle to the Philippians. Each time it is used (1:6, 10 , 2:16) it is also clear that it is speaking of a future day. So from the context of these passages we can clearly determine that the “day of the Lord” is a day in the future. Remember, Paul said that if we are alert we will know when it has come (1 Thess. 5:4)!
Now it is important to understand what “the day of the Lord” really is and what will happen in this day. There are various opinions as to what it might be. Most pre-tribulationists believe it is the 7 year tribulation period or what the Bible speaks of as Daniel’s seventieth week. John Walvoord in his book “The Rapture Question” (pp. 162-163) says, “The Day of the Lord as presented in the Old and New Testament includes rather than follows the tremendous events of the tribulation period. In a word, the Day of the Lord begins before the great tribulation.” J. Dwight Pentecost in his book, “Things To Come” (p. 174) states, “The term the Day of the Lord, or that day, is not a term which applies to a twenty-four hour period, but rather the whole program of events, including the tribulation period, the second advent program, and the entire millennial age.”
Let us examine these thoughts in light of Scripture. Joel 1:15 says the day of the Lord “will come as destruction from the Almighty.” In Joel 2:2 the prophet describes it this way, “A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.” Notice the description in Amos 5:20, “Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it?” The prophecies of the day of the Lord in the Old Testament speak of it as a time of serious trouble and difficulty. The theme of the book of Joel is the day of the Lord, and many references are made to the terrible day it will be. Joel speaks of it in chapter 2 as “a great and awesome day.” Zephaniah 1:14-15 says, “Near is the great day of the Lord, near and coming very quickly; listen, the day of the Lord! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, a day of trouble and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom a day of clouds and thick darkness.” There are five Hebrew words in the Old Testament that are sometimes translated “wrath.” In the Zephaniah passage above the word is “ebrah” which is a word that speaks of overwhelming fury. This particular meaning is the strongest of those words translated “wrath.”
Take a look at what the Old Testament says will characterize the day of the Lord:
1. A day of Reckoning – Isa. 2:12
2. A day of Judgment – Isa. 2:13-17
3. A day Cruel, with Fury and Burning Anger – Isa. 13:9
4. A day of Destruction from the Almighty – Isa. 13:6; Joel 1:15
5. A day of Panic, Subjugation, and Confusion – Isa. 22:5
6. A day of Vengeance – Jer. 46:10
7. A day that Belongs to the Lord God of Hosts – Jer. 46:10
8. A day of Tumult – Eze. 7:7
9. A day of Doom – Eze. 7:10; 30:3
10. A day of Battle – Eze. 13:5; Zech. 14:3
11. A day of Clouds – Eze. 30:3
12. A day of Judgment for Egypt – Exe. 30:19
13. A day of Gloom and Darkness – Joel 2:2; Amos 5:18, 20; 8:9
14. A day that is Great and Awesome – Joel 2:11; 3:1
15. A day when the Sun and Moon grow dark – Joel 3:15
16. A day when Justice is Dealt Out – Obadiah 15
17. A day of Punishment – Zeph. 1:8
18. A day of the Lord’s Anger – Zeph. 2:23
19. A day that is Unique – Zech. 14:7a
Looking at all the passages that deal with the day of the Lord in the Old Testament, it is clear that this is the time that God’s Wrath will be poured out upon an unbelieving world sometime in the future.
In the New Testament Peter makes it clear what kind of a time the day of the Lord is, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:10-13). It is also a day of deliverance for the people of God, those who have been chosen before the foundation of the world — the elect. Believers have the promise to be delivered from the wrath to come (see Romans 5:9; 1 Thess. 1:10, 5:9). In Luke 17 Jesus says that it will come as deliverance to the believer just as deliverance came to Noah and Lot. They were both rescued, Noah in the ark and Lot from the destruction of Sodom, and then destruction came upon the unaware and unprepared world. Note what Jesus says in 17:30, “It will be just the same on the day that the son of Man is revealed.” We will be rescued in what we call the rapture, and then the day of the Lord’s wrath will be poured out on this old world.
Let me share how Robert Van Kampen describes the day of the Lord in the glossary of The Sign; “Synonymous with the second coming (parousia) of Christ. Also called the “end of the age,” the “final harvest,” and the “seventh seal,” which includes God’s trumpet and bowl judgments and is culminated in the battle of Armageddon. The most prophesied event in the Old Testament concerning the last days, the day of the Lord is marked by God’s fiery, judgmental wrath against the earth’s wicked. The primary purpose of the day-of-the-Lord wrath will be to destroy the kingdom of darkness, giving specific attention to the final beast empire of Satan which will then dominate the world. It will begin on the same day that the Rapture occurs, cutting short the great tribulation by Antichrist, sometime during the second half of the seventieth week. It will be announced with a sign divinely displayed in the heavens. (see Sign of the End of the Age).
A secondary purpose of the day of the Lord will be to refine the third part of the nation of Israel who will survive the great tribulation by Antichrist, in preparation for the salvation of the surviving remnant of the nation (one tenth) after the seventieth week is complete thus completing the spiritual kingdom of God. If the day of the Lord did not cut short the great tribulation by Antichrist, none of God’s elect, Jew or Gentile, would survive.
The day of the Lord’s wrath is composed of two major parts. The first is the series of God’s trumpet judgments against the earth’s wicked, including unsaved Israel, that will occur while the seventieth week is in progress. The second part is the series of bowl judgments, “which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished.” These will begin after the seventieth week is complete, after the surviving remnant of Israel is saved and the Lord has hidden them in Azel for protection. The day of the Lord will end at the climactic battle (or campaign) of Armageddon.”